These are the faces of the rising number of Black gun owners in the U.S.

Black gun ownership in America dates back to before the country’s founding.

Firearms helped aid Nat Turner’s rebellion against white enslavers.

Harriet Tubman famously carried her pistol along the Underground Railroad.

Civil rights leaders felt it was necessary to arm themselves against potential racial violence: from journalist Ida B. Wells insisting that every Black home be equipped with a Winchester rifle … to Martin Luther King, Jr. trying to obtain a concealed carry license.

And in recent years, more Black Americans are buying guns.

Chicago-based photographer Christian Lee wanted to present a specific picture of Black gun ownership. He called his project “Armed Doesn’t Mean Dangerous.”

And he set out to photograph Black gun owners in his hometown.

Many African Americans in urban communities have shown interest in the Second Amendment due to a need for survival, rather than an obsession with guns.

“There is a higher crime rate when people cannot work and earn,” says Chicago resident Angela Ross Williams. The 67-year-old became a gun owner out of necessity to protect herself from crime in the city. Angela says that she’s experienced slow police response times, which has lowered her trust in local law enforcement to protect her against crime.

The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence supports Williams’ claim. Its research concludes that the root cause of gun violence is poverty and lack of opportunity, among other factors.

African Americans have used firearms throughout history to defend against the woes of racism and poverty.

In 1921, a group of armed Black World War I veterans came to the aid of a community member who was in danger of being lynched by an angry white mob at the Tulsa County Courthouse. The veterans were asked to leave by the sheriff. But the site of armed Black residents enraged the mob so much that a fight ensued, leading to the start of the Tulsa Race massacre.

Decades later, in 1967, California introduced the Mulford Act, which targeted members of the Black Panther Party. The members had been conducting neighborhood armed patrols they said were meant to protect Black communities from police brutality, as described by Bobby Seale in 1968.

Vanessa Leroy photo edited this story.

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